If you’re an average Joe (or Jane) working on a novel in your free time, approaching an editor for help may seem like an intimidating prospect. Let me explain the services in simple terms. Copy editing or “line editing” means making text correct and readable on several levels. I check sentence construction, grammar, syntax, and general language usage. This stage is objective, since I apply standard grammar rules. At this level, I refrain from evaluating how well the writer communicates his or her overall message. I deal with the details of individual words and expressions. Here’s a list of what I check:
- Punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar
- Noun/pronoun and subject/verb agreement
- Parallel construction
- Word usage (“regardless” instead of “irregardless,” etc.)
- Consistency of style
- Flagging statements that are unclear or seem incorrect
- Adjective- and adverb-heavy prose
- Passive voice
- Checking sources and Bible verses (according to the desired version)
- Sentence and paragraph length
I check some references based on requested style rules. By style, I mean the rules by which certain things (that are subjective) appear in print. For example, are numbers presented as numerals, or are they spelled out? Are names for the books of the Bible written out or abbreviated? The most common style rules reflect those in the Chicago Manual of Style.
Note: Some clients prefer that I turn on Track Changes in Microsoft Word so they can see everything I change. I can also insert notes and point out where I see problems or offer suggestions to improve the piece.
This is the final check, usually of a publication in layout, before printing. Here’s a list of what I check:
- Extra spaces
- Consistency of font and font size
- Incorrect word breaks (hyphenation)
- Widows and orphans
- Headers and footers
- Table of contents
- Page numbering
- Use of single and double quotation marks
This type of editing refers to evaluating the written communication as a whole. Are ideas clear? Does the author make his or her point? Do his or her thoughts flow in a logical, organized progression? Does he or she use transitions correctly? Does he or she use topical sentences? Is his or her tone consistent throughout the piece? Does he or she have a formal or informal tone?
This phase entails taking transcriptions, notes, or sometimes even audio files and pulling text for a possible article or book project. I do occasionally transcribe audio to glean the text for various publications.
I am only one editor. While I strive to do perfect work and find all mistakes, clients need to realize that in most publishing houses, manuscripts pass through the hands of four or five editors. This human process has many layers and requires several sets of eyes to ensure a manuscript is “perfect.” The simple fact is, I cannot replace a staff of editors, but I will work hard and do my best.
Also keep in mind that proofreading, copy editing, substantive editing, and developmental editing are all different services. Copy editing is not intended to be a catch-all for every error. That’s what proofreading, the final stage, is for. Even in publishing houses, errors are often found in the proofreading stage, even after several stages of copy editing. Finding an occasional mistake at this stage is not unusual. Clients should expect to read their material again after I am finished and perhaps even ask someone else to read it. I like to say, “The more eyes, the better.”